Guide to backpacking for beginners

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Backpacking for beginners: may the adventure start!

Backpackers of the world, welcome! As big backpackers ourselves, we at Apache Pine are really happy to explore this subject more in depth with you.

The reason why we love backpacking so much is that it can be a very interesting way to truly realize what you need to be in the outdoors and to keep your adventure sustainable. Indeed, it is always more important to leave no trace when exploring nature and to protect our endangered planet.

This is true especially when it comes to light backpacking, also known as ultralight backpacking or backpacking lightweight, the extreme and even more minimalist version of backpacking.

Of course, being a backpacker, you already are a minimalist, as there’s just so much stuff you can carry on your shoulders. Nevertheless, thanks to better backpacks and new materials, ultralight backpacking gear made it easier to carry around more stuff. However, at the end of the day, you will still have to minimize and choose.

We at Apache Pine are strong supporters of this message and of the philosophy of sustainability in general. All our handmade wooden watches, bush knives and other tools for outdoor activities, but also for everyday life, are created in order to grant quality while lowering the impact on the environment and promote a more conscious and sustainable lifestyle. Also, with our new initiative, every purchase will grant a meal for kids in poor areas of India.

So, let’s start from Backpacking 101. This first chapter will be dedicated to backpacking for beginners: what is backpacking exactly? How to backpack properly? What backpacking gear do I need? Let’s find out together!

What is backpacking?

In a nutshell, backpacking can be described as an extremely low-budget, independent, multi-destination, often international way of traveling, using public transports and very often walking from place to place, carrying all your stuff in a backpack.

It’s normally a way of traveling chosen for longer journey, being a cheaper way of moving around: some backpackers manage to be on the road from years. However, a backpacking experience can also consist of a backpacking weekend.

Also, the sort of journey faced while backpacking can be extremely different according to the way one carries it out day after day. There’s urban backpacking, as well as outdoor backpacking. The first one normally involves sleeping in hostels, B&Bs and other hosting facilities. The second one normally requires a backpacking tent and a camping mat, which add two items at the list, but can still be a very light and comfortable way of traveling if you have the right gear. Also, if you have a backpacking buddy, you can split the load and make it even more convenient.

Sometimes, even bike touring is considered as some sort of backpacking experience.

A less low budget way of backpacking is backpacking with roller bags, using a car to move around (either rented or personal) and sleeping in hostels. That’s more of an on the road sort of travel, however, if you keep it minimal, it can still fall within the category. 

Long story short, backpacking doesn’t have one single definition in terms of kinds of journeys, however, it can be divided in three categories when it comes to the load:

  • Backpacking Round the World
  • Ultralight
  • Flashpacking

How to backpack properly

Exactly because there ins't one single way of describing and living a backpacking experience, there isn't one single way of backpack either. However, we can find a pattern and some common steps related to backpacking habits.

First of all, normally backpacking doesn’t involve a lot of planning. It tends to be a day to day sort of travel, for which the backpacker decides the rough itinerary and rough dates and then tends to modify them according to activities, discoveries and tastes. The keyword to backpacking is flexibility: nothing is fixed and foreseeable, only conceivable. Which is also the great thing about it: indeed, it’s one of the most carefree, positively unexpected way of traveling.

That’s why backpackers prefer to camp outside, or to spend the night at cheap places, where reservation is not needed. It is very unusual that you will be reserving a place to stay and normally it will be during the day for the same night. When it comes to transportation, passes and carnets are a lot more usual and advisable than single ride tickets.

Many backpackers get a continental ticket, especially when it comes to Europe, where there are special tickets for those who want to travel across the whole continent and visit more than one nation. This sort of travel is very popular among European backpackers as well, and it’s called Interrail. However, many experienced backpackers state that if you are smart and organized enough, you can spend a lot less by buying your tickets one at a time (except when there are offers and convenient multitickets available). Another place where train passes are very popular is Asia: in general, trains are probably the most used mean of transportation when it comes to backpacking. 

In general, familiarize with the sort of transports and fares of the nation where you are about to go (work in advance, so you’ll get there prepared). Look for advices on forums and travel sites about which is the best and most reliable way of getting around when backpacking, besides the cheapest and, if needed, fastest. Indeed, each country has its own.

In general though, backpackers should be willing to walk a great deal. Indeed, it’s not meant to be a relaxing, lazy sort of travel, but rather an active journey. Walking will allow you to explore better the surrounding areas and it will also save you a lot of money. After all, backpacking means slow traveling, and it’s a philosophy rather than just a way of getting around. Of course, if a place is way too far, take public transports instead of cabs.

Also, another thing you should be aiming at when it comes to backpacking around cities is to get in touch with local people and realities, so you’ll get the real flavor of the place you’re visiting and you’ll stay away from tourist traps. 

This means you have to really pay attention to where locals go. A good thing is to stay away from the city centre, and most definitely pick the place with less tourists. Lots of websites will help you with that with their reviews and suggestions. Pick the local newspaper and try to get a grip at what’s suggested for the week, or what the news say: that can be very helpful to understand where you are, what’s going on and how people behave there.

When it comes to outdoor backpacking, paperback and internet guides will help you find the best itineraries and trails. Of course you must have with you all the basic gear when it comes to camping and bushcraft. Also, many apps will help you to organize, orientate and find your path. However, a good talk with the locals is very important when it comes to identify your best options and the landscapes you really shouldn’t miss.

If you are lucky and willing to connect with people enough, you’ll find experts of the area and passionate outdoorer who will show you around, possibly taking you on adventures, revealing to you their secret spots and their habits. This happens especially when you stay for a few days in the same place, so locals have the time to get to know you and trust you. Sometimes, learning the basics of the language they speak can be very helpful, not just to eat and sleep, but also to connect and make friends. 

That’s another common thing about backpacking: it’s not meant for people who don’t trust their neighbor. Backpacking requires a strong and authentic connection with the place you are visiting if you want to survive and truly discover the surroundings. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should trust anyone: you should always pay attention to your belongings, especially at night or in crowded places, and you should always evaluate those who come close to you. However, if you are constantly scared of being ripped off, mugged or deceived, then opt for some other kind of travel. Open heart, as well as open eyes and ears, is absolutely fundamental when it comes to backpacking properly.

Last but not least, don’t make your backpacking group too big, or, if you do, make sure everyone is willing to compromise or split the group if needed. Exactly because it’s a hand to mouth kind of journey, each member may choose to do something different from the others. So always make sure to be on the same line, but also willing to compromise and listen to each other.


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